Golf Channel's 'Social Saturday': #needswork

Jason Kokrak

Jason Kokrak

As a late adopter of Twitter and someone who still is somewhat cool to the service, I had mixed feelings when I heard about Golf Channel’s “Social Saturday” tweet-up at the Nationwide Tour Championship.

The idea of incorporating Twitter into a broadcast seemed like a natural progression of modern technology, and the Nationwide Tour was the obvious place to test this approach. It’s easy to see this tour becoming a laboratory for all sorts of ideas that will shape the future of golf telecasts.

On the flip side, the old fogey in me worries about the growing entrenchment of Twitter and the proliferation of cyber-noise. Twitter undoubtedly is a brilliant idea, but one that I’m reluctant to embrace fully because it seems to clutter the Internet, and yes, the mind. Like I said, I’m an old fogey.

(As an aside, I suspect that someone already is developing the next generation of Twitter that will filter out the quips, wise cracks, inside jokes and extended conversations, and effectively serve as a home for hundreds of thousands of RSS feeds delivering genuine information.)

That said, if I have a criticism of Social Saturday, it’s that the experiment was too tentative. It was far less interesting than last year’s announcer-free broadcast from the Albertsons Boise Open. If Golf Channel is going to test new ways of telecasting tournaments – and I assure you that no one wants to see this medium dragged fully into the 21st century more than me – it needs to go all in.

When I first heard about Social Saturday, I envisioned a broadcast told entirely through Twitter, with little or no talking – sort of like a French film with subtitles. I envisioned tweeting by the whole crew, even people in the production truck. As it turned out, the tweets shown on-air came only from on-course reporters Rex Hoggard and Randall Mell, and they merely supplemented the normal telecast. When Mell retweeted a viewer’s comment that “I like the tweets as comedic relief and outside commentary, not so much for play by play,” Foltz said that’s “exactly what it was intended to be today.”

If so, that was not a good choice by Golf Channel. I’m all for more levity in tournament telecasts, and agree with those who say that the game takes itself way too seriously. But if you’re going to put staff on the ground following the tournament leaders, they need first to provide insight and analysis. If they also can provide viewers a few laughs along the way, great. The one-liners from Hoggard and Mell were occasionally amusing, but didn’t provide any useful insights – not unlike much of what is found on Twitter. Many of their comments were so generic that they could have been used at any tournament. In fact, some of their tweets could have just as easily been made from their homes rather than the tournament. A couple of examples:

• Hoggard: “Word is (Jason) Kokrak’s game is Tour ready. I don’t agree, he plays way too fast to be a Tour player.”

• Mell: “How we doing in Twitter experiment guys? NASA used monkey in its first space flight experiment. Monkey died. Hoping this ends different.”

It probably also would have helped if the crew had embraced the technology. Interviewer Stephanie Sparks opened a Twitter account just before the telecast, and booth announcer Mark Lye has never tweeted and seemed baffled by the technology. (In fairness, that perhaps speaks well of Lye.) After Hoggard tweeted that Daniel Chopra “may be thinking he just hit out of a hashtag,” Lye said, “OK, I don’t know what a hashtag is, Jerry, do you?” Foltz’s explanation that it’s “indicative of what’s trending” seemed to be lost on Lye.

While this experiment didn’t work, I applaud the spirit with which it was conceived. Televised golf has become as predictable as a metronome: shot, shot, shot, commercials; shot, shot, shot, commercials. I’m all for any ideas that challenge the status quo. Some will work, others won’t. But ultimately, that’s how you push the medium forward.

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